Jabberwocky Glossary


thumbprint of jabberwock and alice by Tenniel

*Note: A table like this was found at Dick VandeVelde's Jabberwocky page @ Loyola, but it was inexplicably missing "Carrol's explanation" entries for the last three words of the first stanza. The omission had also been propagated at The Ultimate Jabberwocky Page.
 
  There are basically two sets of clues for undersanding the first stanza of this famous nonsensical poem in Chapter 1 of the sequel to Alice. One is a privately produced "periodical" which the 23-year old Carroll himself illustrated and hand-printed for his brothers and sisters. This, entitled Misch-Masch, featured the hand-lettered poem as follows:

Twas Bryllyg, and ye slythy toves did gyre and gymble in ye wabe: 
All mimsy were ye borogroves; and ye mome raths outgrabe.

after which he gave a detailed explation of each nonsense word.

The other clue is found in Through the Looking Glass itself, in Chapter 6, where Humpty Dumpty explains the poem to Alice.
 
  These have been tabulated below.

Tenniel's depiction of toves, borogoves, and raths around the sun-dial

Nonsense Term   Lewis Carroll's Explanation   Humpty Dumpty's Explanation Notes
BRILLIG, BRYLLYG

(derived from the verb to BRYL or BROIL )
'the time of broiling dinner, i.e. the close of the afternoon.

Four o'clock in the afternoon — the time when you begin broiling things for dinner.

I couldn't find BRYL in the OED(Oxford English Dictionary), only the form BRUYLE (14 -15th c.) for "BROIL".
SLITHY, SLYTHY

(compounded of SLIMY and LITHE)
Smooth and active.

…Lithe and slimy. Lithe is the same as 'active.' ... It's like a portmanteau —there are two meanings packed up into one word.

 

T
OVE

A species of Badger. They had smooth white hair, long hind legs, and short horns like a stag; lived chiefly on cheese.

Something like badgers —they're something like lizards—and they are something like corkscrews. …They make their nests under sundials— also they live on cheese.

* Carroll says "Toves" shoud rhyme with "groves" in the introduction to The Hunting of the Snark
GYRE

verb (derived from GYAOUR or GIAOUR 'a dog').
To scratch like a dog.

To go round and round like a gyroscope.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, "Giaour" is a Turkish word of reproach applied to non-Muslims, esp. Christians.
GIMBLE, GYMBLE

(whence GIMBLET)
'To screw out holes in anything.'

To make holes like a gimlet.

"gimlet" is the usual spelling
WABE

(derived from the verb to SWAB or SOAK).
'The side of a hill' (from its being soaked by the rain).

ALICE: And 'the wabe' is the grass plot round a sundial, I suppose?
DUMPTY: Of course it is. It's called 'wabe,' you know, because it goes a long way before it, and a long way behind it —
ALICE: And a long way beyond it on each side.

* note the repetition of "way" and " be-"; therein lies the play on words which explains why it is called a "wabe".
MIMSY

(whence MIMSERABLE and MISERABLE).
'unhappy'.

Flimsy and miserable.

 
 borogove
B
OROGOVE

An extinct kind of Parrot. They had no wings, beaks turned up, and made their nests under sun-dials: they lived on veal.

A thin shabby-looking bird with its feathers sticking out all round—something like a live mop.

* Martin Gardner cites the preface to Snark in which Carroll says "the first 'o' in 'borogoves' is pronounced like the 'o' in 'borrow.'"; but a more irksome question is whether the concluding syllable of "borogoves" is a perfect rhyme with "toves" (or "groves"), or merely just an eye rhyme, in which case the word would probably have to rhyme with "doves" (as it is enticing to do, on account of the avian kinship)
MOME

(hence SOLEMOME, SOLEMONE, and SOLEMN).
'Grave.'

I'm not certain about mome. I think it's short for 'from home' — meaning that they'd lost their way.

 
outgrabing rath RATH

A species of land turtle. Head erect: mouth like a shark: forelegs curved out so that the animal walked on its knees: smooth green body: lived on swallows and oysters.

A rath is a sort of green pig.

 
OUTGRABE

(It is connected with old verb to GRIKE, or SHRIKE, from which are derived 'shriek' and 'creak').
'Squeaked.'

Outgribing is something between bellowing and whistling, with a kind of sneeze in the middle.

The Oxford English Dictionary entry on SHRIKE has it that it is = SHRIEK and is obsolete or dialect meaning "To pipe", applied to birds. GRIKE I could not find.
"squeaked. — the verb "squeak" is usually applied to mice, as in "squeak like a mouse;" whereas the usual verb for creatures of the porcine kind would be "squeal" as in "squeal like a pig".
[1st Stanza]

The 23-year old Carroll in Misch-Masch then goes on to explain the stanza as follows:

Hence the literal English of the passage is: 'It was evening, and the smooth active badgers were scratching and boring holes in the hill-side; all unhappy were the parrots; and the grave turtles squeaked out.' There were probably sundials on the top of the hill, and the 'borogoves' were afraid that their nests would be undermined. The hill was probably full of the nests of 'raths', which ran out, squeaking with fear, on hearing the 'toves' scratching outside. This is an obscure, but yet deeply-affecting, relic of ancient Poetry.

 
Nonsense Term from Martin Gardner's Annotated Alice [still adding..] Notes
JABBERWOCK

Carroll when asked permission from the Girls' Latin School in Boston for permission to name their school paper The Jabberwock, replied:

“ …He finds that the Anglo-Saxon word "wocer" or "wocor" signifies "offspring" or "fruit". Taking "jabber" in its ordinary acceptation of "excited and voluble discussion," this would give the meaning of "the result of much excited discussion." ”


 

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